No Conflict Between Warfighting, Nontraditional Missions, Leaders Say
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 19, 2006 Supporting nontraditional missions and humanitarian crises doesn't detract from the defense mission, but rather, builds important relationships around the world, strengthens capabilities and fills vital needs, top defense leaders said here today.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Marine Gen. Peter Pace both said that DoD can and should support nontraditional, humanitarian missions, such as 2005's Hurricane Katrina and Pakistan earthquake. Both offered their views at a Pentagon town hall meeting May 19. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad McNeeley, USN
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"When our nation sends its armed forces to tsunami relief in Indonesia (or) to earthquake relief in Pakistan, we are showing the very best qualities of this nation: our compassion, our concern for others, our willingness to reach out and help others," Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Peter Pace said during a Pentagon town hall meeting. "That's a great thing for our armed forces to do."
"Arguably, what those forces did to help others understand this country, they did in a way that any number of divisions fighting on a battlefield could never do," Pace said. "So it is well worth our time and energy to do the good works of our nation."
The military's primary focus must always remain on warfighting and the ability to counter both conventional and irregular, asymmetric threats, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the audience.
But when disaster strikes or a serious need arises, Rumsfeld said the military force -- with 1.4 million active-duty and 1.2 million reserve-component members - often brings capabilities no one else can match.
He pointed to Hurricane Katrina as an example, with 50,000 National Guard and 20,000 active-duty troops committed to the relief effort within days. "No other institution could have done that," he said.
Similarly, following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the U. S. was faced with putting people into the airports capable of maintaining security, or shutting those airports down.
"Well, there wasn't any department or agency - federal, state or local - that could instantaneously put in those airports some folks who could on an interim basis provide that kind of security and assistance, and then transfer it over to the Department of Transportation," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld called the decision "a rational use of taxpayer assets." With the American people's estimated $500 billion annual investment in its military, it's reasonable for them to expect the military to step in to support other missions as it's able, he said.
"We have a standing capability that has the purpose of deterring people form attacking and defending our country to the extent it is required," he said. "On the other hand, it's there, and there is no reason it ought not to be used from time to time for things that no rational person would have invested in just to have on standby, in case there's a Hurricane Katrina (that) comes along."
That's exactly how Rumsfeld said he looks at the newly announced National Guard border security mission. With the National Guard making up just 19 percent of the U.S. military force in Iraq, the Guard has the assets available to support the mission, he said.
"What is wrong - and I can't find anything wrong - with a plan that on an interim basis, temporarily, we would provide 6,000 out of 450,000 people who will do doing it on their active duty for training for two weeks?" Rumsfeld said. "They will go down there (and) do exactly what they do in their training. & They are not going to be out with guns, standing on the border, shooting at people trying to come across the border. They are not law enforcement."
Rather, Rumsfeld said, the guardsmen will support the U.S. Border Patrol as it beefs up its force and moves its own members from support to operational jobs. "The Border Patrol that are in the tail as opposed to the teeth end of the Border Patrol will be freed up to move into the teeth portion," he said.
A lot of misinformation is circulating around about the mission, the secretary acknowledged. "People imagine that we're going to go down there, stay there forever, (and) that it's a whole new role for the Department of Defense," he said. "It isn't. We're simply doing it on an interim basis, just like we do with firefighting."
When wildfires rage in the Western U. S., the military, primarily the National Guard, regularly answers the call for support, he said.
"People weren't recruited into the military to go fight fires," Rumsfeld said. "But by golly, the Guard and Reserve does that every year. They do it because somebody has to go do it for a short period of time, and there are people (in the military) who have those skill sets.
"So I feel good about it," he said. "I think it's the right thing to do."